Growing chilli plants

Many Asian dishes seem incomplete without the taste of the chilli in them, so it’s one of the must-have edible plants in a local kitchen garden. The thing I’ve noticed about chilli plants – and other plants that belong in the solanaceae family – is that they attract whiteflies like magnets. So that’s put me off growing them for a while. However, I have a habit of tossing (any) seeds in a pot to see if they’ll do anything, and when some chilli seeds sprouted, I decided to nurture one and see how it would fare.

Underside of chilli leaf infested by whiteflies.

Trying out permaculture principles, I tried to “disguise” the chilli plant amidst a mix of other plants, hoping to mask the plant’s scent among the other plants and throw off unsuspecting pests. So, the potted chilli plant sat amongst basil, marigold, roselle, bittergourd, cucumber and the bean plants.

Did it fool the whiteflies? Nope – maybe the other plants weren’t strongly scented enough, or the whiteflies were just too smart. I had to clean off their eggs from the undersides of the leaves on a daily basis; given a few days without attention, the leaves were consumed by the larvae and became shriveled. A tiny spray of white oil was enough to deter the pests for about a week, then they’d be back.

Here’s the chilli plant’s journey from youth to fruit:

Young chilli plant.

Chilli flower - like tomatoes and other pepper plants in the solanaceae family, the flowers are small, star-shaped and hang facing downwards.

After successful pollination, the petals drop off and the fruit starts to grow.

Chilli fruit growing bigger.

Fully grown green chilli.

Finally there - nice ripe, red chilli.

You could grow the chilli plant in at least a 20cm flower pot, but I believe the size of the pot restricts the plant’s potential – even despite regular fertilizing. Our plant managed to sustain only one fruit successfully, and now that we’ve harvested it, I’m going to move the plant to a bigger pot and see how it fares after that.

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